The Necessity of Spiritual Understanding Pastor A.W. Weckeman March 2014
The greatest hindrance to spiritual growth is a lack of “spiritual understanding.” The greatest obstacle to spiritual understanding is that it’s often expressed in the form of paradox. To be effectual, any discussion of spiritual understanding must point to paradox. No explanation would be complete without revealing the critical contrast between the two types of understanding:
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine OWN UNDERSTANDING.” (Prov.3:5)
And “SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING”:
“…filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING.” (Col.1:9) [All Emphasis added]
“There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless [of greater importance] the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” (Prov19:21).
Unlike intellectual understanding, spiritual realities are paradoxical; truths appear contradictory yet are true. Illogical truths indiscernible through the natural senses. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED.” (1 Cor.2:14) [Emphasis added].
By itself, the natural man’s intellect is blind to biblical salvation. Only God-given spiritual understanding can provide the necessary illumination and conviction to produce a “saving knowledge” of Jesus Christ. “…the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” (Rom.2:4) The same is true regarding the spiritual growth process referred to as “sanctification,” which is inherently dependent upon learning to recognize the limitations of our natural understanding and come to rely instead on supernatural understanding.
Both methods of discernment are essential, yet it is crucial at every level to realize that intellectual understanding is finite (limited to the physical dimension of reality, having definable limits). It is the product of man’s mind, which depends upon logic, deduction, and reason (empirical evidence) to perceive.
Spiritual understanding is infinite (operating in the limitless, unseen, spiritual dimension of reality) and comes from God. Spiritual truth is intuitively revealed (without conscious reasoning; independent of the mind), taking place in the “inner man.” God’s Spirit illuminating man’s spirit “…in thy light shall we see light” (Ps.36:9). Spiritual understanding is not confined within the circumference of logic, nor is it restricted to the realm of reason.
Spiritual realities are paradoxical (just the opposite of what we think); many times, what we think we know just isn’t so. Spiritual understanding begins when we finally realize (in and of ourselves) we don’t know enough to know how little we really know. Have you ever assumed you understood the meaning of a verse of scripture only to find later that you didn’t truly understand in reality? Suddenly, you discover your natural comprehension to be superficial and incomplete.
For example: In Ephesians 4:32, we find Paul’s exhortation, “…be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” “Intellectual understanding” by itself doesn’t fully provide the comprehension necessary to obey this command; appealing to logic by stressing the necessity of forgiving as we have been forgiven. So, in effect, we attempt to obey according to our limited understanding. Even if we manage to forgive, more than likely, it will be done begrudgingly, from the head and not the heart.
In reality, only “spiritual understanding” can provide the insight necessary to forgive another completely. My heart must be illuminated and convicted by the Holy Spirit (spiritual discernment) to the point where I truly understand the depth of Christ’s unconditional love and forgiveness toward me; God-given understanding of my utter unworthiness of His forgiveness is the liberating truth that sets me free to forgive others unconditionally. Only after seeing how unworthy I am can I obey the command of (Eph. 4:32), exercising total forgiveness and truly letting go. Only spiritual insight from God can provide the clarity to understand: “Forgiveness is setting a prisoner free and then discovering the prisoner was you.”
Spiritual understanding is not of this world; it belongs to the things of the unseen dimension of reality; because it is defined by paradox, it renders human intellect insufficient for the things of God. Consider the following verses in 1 Corinthians chapter two:
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:9-14). So also see, (Luke 24:45).
Be careful not to allow your intellect to rob you of spiritual understanding; full dependence upon natural abilities will cause you to lose spiritual rewards.
The Traitor Within
The second indispensable truth concerning spiritual understanding: Our greatest impediment to understanding the Scriptures is found in our inherent resistance to fully understanding ourselves, the natural tendency to downplay the corrupt, far-reaching influence of the “old man.” When Paul stated, “…in me (that is in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom.7:18), he was describing a profound, all-encompassing reality concerning the subtle, insidious influence which remains intact after salvation. The flesh is the traitor within, and the mind is the battlefield. Self-deception is the enemy’s goal. The counterbalance (“spiritual understanding”) is gained by the assimilation of God’s word, which reveals and dispels the deception when illuminated by the Holy Spirit.
“For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have NO CONFIDENCE IN THE FLESH” (Phil.3:3) [Emphasis added].
Learning to trust the Lord with our lives is no small thing. Unfortunately, the majority of us will only obey the above verses when we run out of options; we have no choice in the matter. Our natural tendency is to take matters into our own hands, trusting ourselves, relying on our own reasoning, our own understanding, and wisdom. We are by nature self-centered, self-reliant, independent creatures.
The Compass is Always Right
As a boy growing up on Staten Island, I developed a love for the ocean and saltwater fishing. When I got older, I finally bought a boat, realizing the fulfillment of a childhood dream of fishing off-shore in the ocean. Then, one day while following a huge school of bluefish, in a feeding frenzy, a few miles off Sandy Hook, N.J. I wandered too far out.
As I unhooked the last fish, I noticed the storm behind me, which had been brewing for the last half hour or so, had completely shrouded the horizon, including Staten Island. Finally realizing the approaching danger, I quickly turned the boat around and high-tailed it toward home. Before long, I was caught in the storm and had to decrease speed to avoid the pounding white caps.
It was then that things took a turn for the worse; I knew that Sandy Hook had been on my port side, and being just outside Raritan Bay, I was sure that Staten Island was dead ahead, that is until I glanced down at my compass. To my dismay, it was reading North West instead of South West. My fuel situation left little room for error, and I was so convinced that my destination was in front of me that I was tempted to rely on my instincts. Instead, I reluctantly changed course to a southwest heading.
After what seemed like an eternity, I caught a glimpse of land, which turned out to be New Dorp Beach…three or four miles beyond my Marina at Great Kills. Twenty minutes after following the coastline, the fuel gauge on empty, I turned into Great Kills Harbor. From that point on, I never again relied on my instincts or what I thought I knew; the compass was always right even when it seemed so wrong. The same is true regarding our understanding vs. God’s understanding.
“A sense of our own folly is a great step towards being wise; when it leads us to rely on the wisdom of the Lord.” Spurgeon
If we were honest with ourselves, we would acknowledge our continual need for course correction. This is the truth we are most likely to shun, that which is most incriminating and ironically most needed, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for REPROOF, for CORRECTION, for instruction in righteousness…” (2 Tim.3:16)
“…reproofs of instruction are the way of life.” (Prov.6:23). “…reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.” (Prov.19:25). “My son despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his CORRECTION: For who the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.” (Prov.3:11-12) [All Emphasis added].
Remember, our spiritual life began with reproof, correction, and conviction, exposing inherent sin and our helplessness to save ourselves. Our salvation is due to humble submission; that is when we humbly, by faith, believed God’s negative assessment of our lost condition: “There is none righteous, no, not one.” “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom.3:10 & 23).
So few believers ever come to a full understanding of spiritual realities because once saved, so few are willing (by faith in God’s word) to acknowledge their helplessness to serve and please the Lord. “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? (Gal.3:3) Also see, (Phil. 1:6 & 2:13). After salvation, we have a natural tendency to revert to our self-sufficiency mode (primarily because we want to retain control of our lives). Knowing our salvation requires total reliance upon God; how do we think we can serve Him in our own natural strength and intellect?
That we are by nature prone to wander from the Lord’s leading (Ps.119:10 &176) should be blatantly obvious. The fact that we are frequently in need of correction is a truth strongly resisted by the “old man”…one that can easily go unnoticed. Without surrender and a constant reminder of the need to rely on God’s wisdom and understanding, it is impossible to “be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet [fit] for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” (2 Tim.2:21). Lacking honest self-perspective, all efforts to serve God will be misguided, out of balance due to the illusion of self-sufficiency. We are, by nature, exceedingly susceptible to self-deception, victims of pride and rationalization. “So great is the human capacity for self-deception that we can be blind to our own insincerity.” D. Hunt
Just as Satan will spare no effort to conceal himself and his pernicious agenda, the flesh will employ all means possible to hide its true nature, always striving to preserve self-life, maintaining self on the throne of the heart. The flesh spends most of its time and energy convincing us how good we are when in reality, just the opposite is true! When exposed, in the Light of God’s word, the flesh will contrive to deny, deflect and defend. If all else fails, it will feign reform, sacrificing anything so long as it can continue to have space to operate. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9).
A wise and understanding heart is an honest and humble heart which has learned, through trying experiences the reality of Jesus’ words in (John 6:63), “…the flesh profiteth nothing.” The possession and utilization of “spiritual understanding” depend on conditioned receptivity and obedience. Sensitivity to “Christ in you, the hope of glory…”:(Col.1:27) “And thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.” (Isa.30:21).
“Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he UNDERSTANDETH and KNOWETH me...” (Jer.10:23-24) [Emphasis added].
“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.” (2 Tim.2:7).